Google Testing “Sources” Area With Info About Movies, Books, People, Music & More

Last November, Google tested a new “Sources” section in its search results, in the third column where ads normally appear. It seems the testing is underway again, showing extended information about actors, films, musicians, people and more. It also seems likely everyone may see this extended information soon, and that it’s the “search refresh” the Wall Street Journal wrote about in March finally arriving.

Experiment Confirmed

I noticed these appearing yesterday in my own search results, and Google has confirmed that there’s an experiment happening:

We’re always experimenting with ways to improve search, but we have nothing to announce at this time.

Google does indeed often experiment with new formats, randomly tagging some visitors to see the formats being tested. I apparently was one of those tagged. Most people, however, won’t see some of the examples I’ll share below, as they’re not tagged into the experiment.

I think that will change in the near future, because as I’ll explain at the end, this is one test that I suspect will go fully live soon.

TV Shows

Here’s what I see in a search for Lost:

You can see off to the right-hand side there’s a little summary about the TV show “Lost” that’s drawn from Wikipedia. Cast members are listed, along with a “People also search for” area showing other TV shows that seem related to Lost.

In the previous test last November, this box was called “Sources.” That label is now gone. I’m continuing to call it the “Sources” box for want of a better name.


Clicking on the links generates a new Google search along with further information. Here’s a close-up of what’s shown for Evangeline Lilly:


Similar units appear for movies, such as this for in a search for Avengers:

Music & Bands

Musical groups like U2 appear:


There’s also extended information about some people, apparently if they are listed in Wikipedia. For example, a search for “dooce” brings up extended information about blogger Heather Armstrong, who is known by that name:


Even books can get a special display:

With Or Without Google+

None of the units are dependent on Google+, nor are they part of Search Plus Your World. They appear whether you’re signed in or not, whether you use Google+ or not. But if you are part of Google+, the units might get additional information.

For example, signed-out, I see this for a search on the TV show New Girl:

Signed-in, since I follow the New Girl page on Google+, information from that appears in a “From your circles” area above the sources box:

New Format For Direct Answers Live For Everyone?

Google is also showing direct answers that come from different sources. Bas van den Beld from State Of Search also appears to be in the test and noted that for a search on “hot fuzz director,” he got a direct answer like this:

This is similar to what you see at Bing for the same search, where the information is disclosed as coming from Freebase, a service that Google owns:

However, these direct answers don’t seem part of the sources experiment. For example, using my Chrome browser in “incognito” mode, which keeps me out of the Google sources test, I can still make these boxes appear, such as this for “avengers cast:”

Is This The “Search Refresh” The WSJ Wrote About?

Direct answers like these have long been part of Google. The formats, however, seem new. The addition of the sources box also suggests that what the Wall Street Journal wrote about earlier this year, about Google offering more direct and semantic answers, is about to happen.

In WSJ Says Big Google Search Changes Coming? Reality Check Time!, I took the WSJ article to task because I thought it overhyped what was likely to happen, which was Google expanding things that it already does.

That still seems to be the case. This will no doubt be a big change to hit Google. But it will also be one of those “evolutionary not revolutionary” type of changes.

If you see these boxes, then you’re one of the few who have also been tagged as part of the experiment. If you don’t, then there’s not much you can do but wait. It seems likely they’ll eventually come for everyone.

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Features: Analysis | Google: Squared | Google: Web Search | Search Features | Search Features: Direct Answers | Search Features: Shortcuts | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Arnaud Fischer ★★★

    Hum, anybody’s got a screenshot of 2008′s AOL Search with FullView?

  • Joseph Sanchez

    and I bet that this was a feature patented by AOL that google recently bought.

  • Eric Farmer

    The best part of all this is that it lists The Incredible Hulk as the main prequel to Avengers. 

  • Gus Hardeux

    Haha why would they have hulk as the prequel to the avenger…RDJ must be pissed that it wasn’t ironman

  • Marc Winter

    Now I’m really glad I never did any serious work for Wikipedia. Those people must feel really screwed now that all their hard and FREE work is being leveraged by one of the world’s richest companies to make even more money…

    On the other hand, if Google ever decides to dare to use my content in such a way, I know I gonna kick that sorry bot out…

  • Danny Sullivan

    Wikipedia freely gives away its information to anyone with attribution. Give how substantially visible it is in Google, I’d also say it’s getting plenty back in traffic. If anyone’s getting screwed, it’s the sites that Wikipedia itself draws upon for attribution. If they get credited, it’s with a nofollow link that passes no Google ranking love back to them.

  • NikolaLentis

    Wonder what will happen to the ads shown on the right side? Or is this a clever way to train our eyes to look at/click on ads more, which would normally be shown on the right?

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  • John Renaldo

     That’s the question I was wondering as well. If they fully roll this feature out, what will it do to the right side pay per click real estate? Will it play well?

  • Knowles2

    I think I been seeing several Google experiments being tested on me over the last few weeks, including one in this article, but I think I seen others as well, will have to keep an eye out and make sure I print screen it. 

  • Knowles2

    Google founders have put millions into Wikipedia over the years in sponsorship and will continue to do so especially if it continue to take centre stage in their business. 

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  • Gradiva Couzin

    Hi Danny,
    Just wondering — when you said “this is one test that I suspect will go fully live soon”, is that because of the WSJ article, or for any other reason?  We have a client who would be strongly affected by this change and we’re trying to gauge the likelihood & timing of a full roll-out.
    Thanks for the great post!Gradiva

  • David Bayer

    It’s the same formula.  Really the only question is, will Google allow users to upload information which will eventually overwrite the exposure the sources get.  Remember when yelp and citysearch were actually listed as sources in early google places results, until google had enough user reviews and user submitted information to bury the IYPs to the bottom of the off-search places page?  IMDB would be well served to come out of the gates now and aggressively oppose the move, same with wikipedia.  Yeah, perhaps Google will throttle it down and not allow users to add information into their ‘sources’ database but, haven’t seen it yet.  Each time its the same sneaky tactic – aggregate everyone else’s info, add a little button at the bottom that says ‘submit your own’ and then, wham, sources gone.  Danny it would be interesting to publish an article around the history of this tactic as Google has trounced through shopping, travel, local and now, entertainment?  I probably missed a few too.  I can’t imagine my life without Google, but they really are abusing this ‘what’s best for users’ mantra to implement some very subtle, but very powerful subversive techniques. Take it to the fullest extent and its not impossible to imagine Google asserting that “users don’t need websites any more.  Its a better experience for us to extract all the information from websites and display it in our search results page.”

  • Rajamanickam

    I took noticed this new feature few days back (Refer the video ). But Today I am NOT seeing this feature.

  • vijethk

     Yes, these days Google is experimenting on lot of things. I read somewhere they are also going to launch some artificial intelligence which will be tied with govt investigation agencies. Google is testing many different aspects in very higher end…..

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